Continuing my discussion with first-year teachers at my school, Rouse High School in Leander, Texas, I'm learning about their teacher preparation experiences.
The interviewed teachers represent a diverse group of professionals with a variety of backgrounds and interests. They are:
I asked each teacher the same five questions about their experiences. Their responses were varied, but common themes also started to arise as the teachers talked about what they had been through. In today's blog post, I present a summary of their answers to my fourth question.
What did your teaching certification program prepare you well for, and what did it not prepare you well for?
The answers to this question were quite varied, presumably because the teachers came from a variety of teaching certification programs. Each program appeared to have a different structure, consisting of different combinations of classes, internships, projects, and student teaching. Therefore, it was not surprising that each person felt well prepared for different areas of the profession.
Some said that their program had a strong focus on lesson writing and design. Others said that their program did not prepare them at all for this part of the job. This was somewhat disheartening, because writing what one teacher called “painfully long” lesson plans as part of a pre-service program is what allows teachers to understand different theories of learning and how they are applied in the classroom.
One teacher whose program focused on the 5-E model of lesson writing described how it influenced his thinking about lessons. “Not every lesson’s going to be a 5-E lesson, but that’s the framework to always look back to. Do I have an engage in my lesson? Do I have some form of assessment? Always having something exploratory. Those tidbits are always something good to think about.” It seems unlikely that a new teacher who did not have this experience would ever have enough time to step back enough from his or her day-to-day duties to look at their lessons with such a critical eye.
Other areas that teachers said they were well-equipped for included learning theory, educational policy, classroom management, and building positive relationships with students. A common aspect of the job that many teachers said they were ill-equipped for was paperwork and responsibilities related to student accommodations. This included Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that prohibits discrimination based upon disability; Individualized Education Programs (IEPs); Admission, Review, and Dismissal (ARDs); and differentiation. When first entering the field, many of the teachers were unaware of the complexity of laws and regulations that surround student accommodations in the current system of education. Often, as many as a third of the students in a general education class can require special adaptations such as printed notes, oral administration of tests, shortened assignments, longer assignments, preferential seating, special grouping, and so on. All of this is required by law, and most of these teachers received limited training in how to implement it.
The common theme underlying all these teachers’ comments seemed to be that they needed more experience in the field before beginning their first job. Some said that they had never worked in a classroom with students before starting their first year as a teacher. Others said their programs did offer time in the field, but they felt that they still could have used more.
One teacher described his struggle with understanding student apathy and how limited experience in the classroom made it hard to see: “I had plenty of observation time…but…I just got to see students in a lot of different settings, and it wasn’t my classroom, so I didn’t have to deal with that over an extended period of time…Me showing up for one day to observe one class, I get to see a student that doesn’t want to do anything for one day, but they haven’t done anything all year, or turned in any homework.”
Giving these teachers more time to work in actual classrooms would have helped them feel more prepared for the field they were stepping into. Educational theory classes can be hard to understand until they are put into practice with real students and real situations, so pre-service programs should make an effort to prioritize field experiences if they want their novice teachers to be ready to tackle the challenges that the job will throw at them.
Next week: What can your coworkers, administration, school, and community do to help you want to stay a teacher and keep becoming a better teacher?